The value of teamwork

The cover of this issue’s Forbes (July 2020, No. 33) is dedicated to team success. To demonstrate it, we picked two personalities with extraordinary careers in fashion and food, Alessandro Maria Ferreri, CEO of The StyleGate, and Marco Bonaldo, CEO of Galateo&Friends, respectively. Their parallel journeys towards excellence crossed paths when Bonaldo’s project involving Ferreri transformed his high-quality taggiasco oil into a luxury product endorsed by top designers, brands, restaurants and hotels. Gathering and managing their skills with success is no easy task. It takes ability, intelligence, vision, and above all, the will to look towards the future and construct it, putting aside one’s own “particularities”, as Francesco Guicciardini called it.

– Alessandro Rossi – EDITOR IN CHIEF

The Good And The Beautiful

Who would have guessed that great fashion brands would consider restaurants and hotels like valued pieces in their collections?

For some time, luxury and fashion entrepreneurship have been looking at the hotel and restaurant sector as a possible parallel investment, where a design idea, such as a piece of clothing or jewellery, can converge with experience. In the wake of this trend, a large brand like Bulgari had launched its own hotel chain and Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, as well as fashion giants like Armani and Versace, who now have glittering luxury hotel properties in Milan, Dubai and Australia.

However, before this new convergence between fashion and food came to be, its concept had already been pioneered by two Italian entrepreneurs, Marco Bonaldo and Alessandro Maria Ferreri, who still take care of “the good and the beautiful” every day for their demanding international clients, with precise strategy and lots of flair.

On one hand, Marco, at the helm of Galateo & Friends, has been working with very high-quality extra virgin olive oil for 30 years, in addition to important collaborations with Alain Ducasse and Massimo Bottura. On the other hand, Alessandro, CEO of The Style Gate, a charismatic engineer of with over 20 years of career in prestigious luxury brands, has acquired the monopoly of luxury advisory – boutique hotel style. Innovative startups as well as seasoned entrepreneurs seek his advice on how to manoeuvre through the rough waters of the fashion world that Alessandro knows so well.

Twenty years ago, having known and worked with each other (Marco is in fact a great fashion enthusiast and Alessandro a refined gourmand himself), the two already knew that sooner or later fashion would have to turn to the world of food as consumer behaviours evolved, and gastronomy would need the help of fashion to put its best foot forward.

From here, the idea of these executives took off. They did not want to turn this project into a simple, amateur idea, but by combining their capabilities and experiences, they aimed for an ambitious business project to serve luxury giants who would soon need it.

So, they launched prestigious bottles of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for Armani hotels (after having created smaller bottles for room service), refined condiments for Versace’s palazzi in Dubai and Gold Coast, a sparkling partnership with Swarovski, and two bottles of extra virgin olive oil and chilli oil for the Milanese restaurant, Ceresio 7, designed by Dsquared2’s Dean and Dan Caten. Over the course of 10 years, they also have the world’s exclusive with 10 Corso Como restaurant, collaborations with renowned Spanish architect Lazaro Rosa Violan (who built El National Barcelona) and heavyweight designers such as Sam Baron, Paola Navone and Tricia Guilt.

As discerning entrepreneurs, while managing their own business with a firm hand and seeing it grow, they know that no one can be immune to the market’s ups and downs, and showed the luxury world a new path through food and fashion, at a time when it was not even considered a viable business model.

Marco and Alessandro clearly divide their responsibilities, which only have to be completed with their personalities: Marco is the product technician, an expert in the luxury food sector and a darling of the most famous Michelin-starred chefs in the world (from Heinz Beck to Luca Fantin), while Alessandro, a luxury strategy and relations expert (his international network of contacts is second to few), takes care of business development and all the legal-economic details of the partnerships. Together, they develop the product with ideas ranging from packaging to communication, contributing their mutual talents.

So we understood that the project’s secret recipe for success is kept in two main components: the very high-quality product and the way in which it communicates. The oil is there. You can taste it. There is no mystery about it. But the communication is very unique, going almost against the product itself.

“Usually wine and oil communications take place during the harvest,” Alessandro Maria explains. “Instead, we have chosen go down the champagne route with our extra virgin olive oil – which means we shift the focus of the communication from the harvest to the finished product. In fact, champagnes, evolving as luxury products themselves, have always been inclined towards luxury partnerships, not only from the aesthetic point of view (like the Piper bottles designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier), but also from the entrepreneurial perspective (half of the initials of LVMH refer to liqueur and alcohol). So we decided to apply this on to extra virgin olive oil, which was anything but simple, if we consider the fact that olive oil has never been perceived like champagne, very much limited by both culture and people.”

In fact, the first battle which Bonaldo and Ferreri fought was to create a culture and awareness around the product. Firstly, the oil, which is available in thousands of different characteristics and qualities in Mother Nature, has to be the absolute best (Marco’s root in the Liguria-Taggiasca lands obviously made a difference). Secondly, the scarcity of the olives, the difficulty of working with their small size, as well as the complexity of harvest with the longest season (from October to March) means that the oil made from them is going to be as refined as it is expensive.

However, given such a huge market with all kinds of price points, how does one justify that this oil is truly a gift of the gods? (Legend has it that the goddess of Athena gave Man the first olive plant.) This is where the challenge for this tenacious entrepreneur duo plays out: they need to first create the culture, the authority in perception, then offer the market the products and services, with a wink to luxury through well-researched packaging and special projects. “In short”, says Bonaldo, “Alessandro and I, thanks to our mutual experiences, have succeeded in forging an entrepreneurial project, by adapting a communication method founded upon an exceptional finished product and by dressing it with different clothes, where Alessandro finds the tailors and we create the dress together.”

So it comes as no surprise that this smart duo has become one of the first reference points in luxury when it comes to combining two apparently distant worlds like food and fashion. Recently, they have also further strengthened their partnership by co-authoring a book, published by Mondadori, called “15 chefs fuori posto”, where they took their chef friends and, encouraged by a touching preface by Alain Ducasse, told their stories by decontextualising them outside their comfort zone.

But the best is yet to come. Marco and Alessandro Maria are about to launch two other partnerships, which they will keep as top secret for the moment, while carrying on their success in a true celebration of the good and the beautiful.

Identikit

Marco Bonaldo / Taggiascan Luxury
Marco Bonaldo, after a long experience as the founder of a Ligurian oil company, created Galateo & Friends 18 years ago. It is a luxury food company focused on extra virgin olive oil made from the Taggiasca olive, with more than 50 different products today. Exported in over 40 countries, with France, Japan, the United States as the top three markets. Year by year, turnover has increased by double digits, 80% from abroad and 20% from Italy, while 60% of the business is dedicated to gourmet food and 40% to luxury retail. Owning extensive territories where the olives are grown year round, Galateo & Friends, in addition to promoting its main line, always enjoys prestigious partnerships like with the Ritz in Paris and Byblos in St. Tropez.

Alessandro Maria Ferreri / Fashion Leader
Alessandro Maria Ferreri founded The Style Gate five years ago, following 20 years of career as a corporate manager for important luxury companies such as Hermès, Moschino, Etro, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Margiela. The Style Gate is a luxury operating advisory company, with a bespoke approach inspired by boutique hotels and over 20 collaborators in Milan, Paris and London. Its work with brands and retailers from every market segment in product development, communication and distribution contribute to its double-digit turnover increase. Ferreri is on the strategic committees of some of the most prestigious fashion brands, a permanent lecturer and field tutor for the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan, as well as the official ambassador and mentor of the Fashion Trust of the National Chamber for Italian.